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Ladies and gentlemen, don’t start your engines

Audrey Lainé is lying just above the pavement in a super-streamlined car that weighs less than she does. As the 21-year-old Canadian university student cruises down a straightaway in the heat of competition, she does a strange thing: she turns off her engine and coasts.

Such are the tactics drivers use during Shell Eco-marathon to squeeze every bit of mileage out of the teeniest tank of fuel. Audrey will pilot Université Laval’s sleek Alérion Supermileage car for the third year in a row in competition in 2013. She is exercising and avoiding sweets as part of her effort to lose a few pounds and reach the minimum 110-pound (50-kg) weight for drivers in the competition.

“We tried hard to get all the car’s components lighter,” she said. “So I don’t see myself eating French fries before the competition!”

Carbon-fibre wheels

Audrey and her teammates are doing everything they can to make their three-wheeled prototype more efficient and improve on the performance that allowed them to win the Shell Eco-marathon Americas three years running, with a top rating of 2,565 miles per gallon (1,090 kilometres/ litre). That includes making refinements to the car, such as preparing a special set of aerodynamic, but fragile, carbon-fibre wheels.

It also includes fine-tuning the car’s petrol engine so it is as frugal as possible. But it must still get enough fuel to restart reliably when Audrey is rolling down the track in the middle of the competition.

Driving tactics

Audrey aims to average about 25 kilometres per hour (15.5 miles/hour) as she navigates 10 laps of Houston’s street circuit. So she watches the speedometer and listens to the lap times radioed from teammates.

She uses the engine just two or three times during each one-mile (1.6-kilometre) lap. And she only brakes to avoid colliding with other cars on the track.

The efficiency mindset the students apply to Shell Eco-marathon also carries over to techniques to save fuel in everyday driving.  At the wheel of her own Honda Civic, Audrey coasts whenever safely possible to save fuel. 

 

Team facts

Team facts

Team name: Alérion Supermileage
Average age: 22
Car name: Alérion Supermileage
Class: Prototype
Energy type: Petrol (gasoline)
Features: Carbon fibre body, computer-modelled for an aerodynamic design.
Years in competition: 6
Record: 1,347 km/l (3,168 mpg)

Who's on the team?

Philippe Bouchard

Philippe Bouchard

Philippe Bouchard, a 23-year-old mechanical engineering student, puts in long hours as the Laval team’s general manager. But he still finds time to coach teenage football and basketball teams, play basketball in a university league and spend time with his girlfriend. At 6 feet, 2 inches (1.88 metres) and 180 pounds (81.6 kilograms), he is too large to fit into the team’s prototype car.

Audrey Lainé

Audrey Lainé

In her third year as the team’s driver, Audrey Lainé has little time to practice behind the wheel because of the cold and snow in Québec. She tries to keep a balance between her work on the team and her mechanical engineering studies, which includes designing surgical tools and other biomechanical devices. Away from school, she likes skiing, running and spending time with friends. 

Lucas Brunet

Lucas Brunet

Lucas Brunet, a native of Montréal, is responsible for the Alérion Supermileage car’s clutch assembly, as well as relations with the team’s sponsors. But he’s also the unofficial social secretary, organising parties and occasional ski outings to help forge closer personal ties among team members. Outside school, he earns extra money by driving an electric delivery car for a local pizza and pasta restaurant.